History of Neuropsychology


First Uses of the Term

  • 1913: Term first used by Sir William Osler
  • 1936: Entered psychology nomenclature after use by Karl Lashley
  • 1949: Term used by D. O. Hebb in his book, The organization of behavior: A neuropsychological theory. The term was undefined, however.
  • 1957: The term became a recognized designation for a subfield of the neurosciences when Heinrich Kluver (Behavior Mechanisms in Monkeys) suggested the book would be of interest to neuropsychologists. Did not use the term in the 1933 edition.
  • 1960: Term given wide publicity when it appeared in Karl Lashley’s writings (The Neuropsychology of Lashley). The term was still undefined.


  • The study of the relation between brain function and behavior
  • The field draws on information from many disciplines, but its central focus is the development of a science of human behavior based on the function of the brain
  • Its contemporary definition is strongly influenced by two traditional foci for experimental and theoretical investigations in brain research: the brain hypothesis, the idea that the brain is the source of behavior; and the neuron hypothesis, the idea that the unit of brain structure and function is the neuron


  • American (actuarial)
    • Based primarily on psychometric properties. Normative data and “organicity”
    • Developed out of behavioral/actuarial methods at the time
    • Statistical evaluation
    • Standardized
    • Deemphasized individual difference
    • Protocol
  • Russian (clinical-theoretical, Luria)
    • Heavy reliance on clinical expertise, minimal normative data, observation key
    • single case studies
    • Lesion identification and localization
    • Lacks objective standardization or procedures
    • Detailed clinical evaluation
    • Unique behavioral product
    • Hypothesis testing


500 B.C.

  • Almaceon of Croton: Located mental process in the brain, subscribing to what is now called the brain hypothesis

495 B.C.

  • Empedocles: Located mental process in the heart, subscribing to what could be called the “cardiac hypothesis”

460 B.C.

  • Hippocrates: Argued that the brain was the organ of intellect and controlled senses and movement. Lesions affected the contralateral side

427 B.C.

  • Plato: Developed the concept of the tripartite soul and placed its rational part in the brain because that was the part that was closest to the heavens

384 B.C.

  • Aristotle: The heart was warm and active, and the source of mental processes; the brain, because it was cool and inert, served as a radiator to cool the blood

130 A.D.

  • Galen: Spent 5 years as a surgeon to gladiators
    • Aware of the behavioral consequences of brain damage
    • Refuted Aristotle by pointing out that nerves from sense organs go to the brain and not the heart
    • Also completed experiments looking at effects of pressure on the heart and brain


  • The notion that given behaviors are controlled by specific areas of the brain
  • Today, the term generally means functions are distributed among different segments of the neocortex
  • Two problems: are mental processes the products of the brain or mind; & where are the controls for different aspects of behavior located within the brain?

300 B.C.

  • Herophilus: Believed the brain was the source of intellect, the third ventricle the source of cognition, the fourth ventricle the seat of the soul, and posterior regions responsible for memory

130 A.D.

  • Galen: Believed that the substance of the brain was responsible for intellect, not the ventricles


  • Vesalius: Noted that the brains of all animals have similar structures and very only by size


  • Descartes: Replaced the Platonic concept of the tripartite soul with that of a unitary mind that is the reasoning or rational soul
    • Originator of the mind-body problem
    • First to locate mental processes precisely within brain tissue; the pineal gland


  • Gall & Spurzheim: Different human faculties were located in different centers of the brain
    • Vital forces were located within the brainstem and intellectual capacity within the cerebral hemispheres, connected by the corpus callosum
    • Personal characteristics determined by the shape of the skull (Phrenology)
    • Made important discoveries in neuroanatomy: cortex composed of functioning cells that are connected with subcortical structures, crossing of the pyramids, white and grey matter composition of the spinal cord, and connectedness of the cerebral hemispheres by commissural fibers
    • Gall also gave the first complete account of a relation between left frontal brain damage and aphasia


  • Bouillaud: Presented a large series of cases of loss of speech following frontal lesions
    • Suggested left hemisphere controlled various right-handed acts
    • Provided a method for determining localization of function, which moved neuropsychology from the descriptive to correlational level


  • Dax: Reported, in an unpublished paper, on 40 patients over a 20-year period, noting the association between left-hemispheric damage, right hemiplegia, and aphasia


  • Auburtin: furthered Bouillaud cause, when he presented at the Anthropological Society of Paris


  • Broca: Offered the first model of the neuropsychology of language
    • 4 contributions to study of cortical functions
      • Described a syndrome consisting of an inability to speak despite intact vocal mechanisms and normal comprehension (Broca’s aphasia)
      • Coined the term aphemia
      • Correlated aphemia with an anatomical site (Broca’s area)
      • Elaborated the concept of cerebral dominance of language in the left hemisphere
    • Widely criticized by many historians, many of whom judged his contributions as not original, not enduring, or not accurate


  • Fritsch & Hitzig: Produced contralateral movement through mechanical and electrical stimulation of the brain
    • Resulted in notion that cortex is excitable, cortex plays a role in producing movement, & function is localized (“On the electrical excitability of the cerebrum”)


  • Bartholow: Was the first to perform electrical stimulation of a human cortex


  • Penfield: Mapped sensory & motor regions of the cortex
    • Experimented with electrical stimulation


  • Connectionist theories hypothesized that a relatively small number of basic centers in the brain could be combined through connections to explain a wide variety of higher functions


  • Wernicke: Made findings devastating to strict localization
    • There is more than one language area (sequential programming of various behaviors) & damage that spares an area could result in deficits that are indistinguishable from those resulting from damage to the area (concept of disconnection)
    • This type of theorizing was known as associationism or connectionism
  • Meynert: Was an associate of Wernicke and the first to suggest the cortex behind the central fissure is sensory in function
    • Provided thorough account of brain structures and their possible functional significance
    • Described thalamus, hypothalamus, hippocampus, lateral geniculate nucleus, and nucleus basilis of Meynert


  • Dejerine: Identified the first callosal syndrome, & alexia w/o agraphia
  • Liepman: Described apraxias and, he and Maas, callosal apraxia in connectionist terms


  • Geschwind: Supported connectionist explanations of aphasia, apraxia, alexia, etc.

HIERARCHICAL ORGANIZATION (but still connectionist in nature)


  • Hughlings Jackson: Viewed the nervous system as an organized and interactive whole, with functional hierarchy in several levels (spinal cord, basal ganglia & motor cortex, & frontal cortex)
    • Adopted the theory of hierarchy from Spencer’s evolution of the brain argument
    • Studied focal seizures, and proposed the homunculus notion
    • Ideas were too complex for his time…
    • Dissolution, the notion that disease or damage would produce the reverse of evolution (the organism still has a repertoire of behaviors, but the behaviors are simpler in nature)
  • Vygotsky: Cultural historic theory (greatly influenced Luria)
    • Suggested cultural, historical, and social influences are important for adaptation
  • Luria: Lesions lead to disintegration of functions but may tell you little about the functional system
    • Need to understand how brain structures contribute to functional systems of behavior
    • Three Functional Units
      • Brain Stem Structures (arousal unit): Responsible for regulating cortical tone
      • Cerebral Cortex Posterior to Central Sulcus (input): Responsible for receiving, organizing, and storing visual, auditory, and tactual stimuli
      • Cerebral Cortex Anterior to Central Sulcus (organization & planning unit): Responsible for emitting motor responses, formulating intentions, planning and evaluating behavior
      • 2nd and 3rd blocks are also divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary areas.
    • Five Stages of Development of Higher Cortical Functions
      • RAS
      • Primary sensory & motor areas, biologically more than environmentally
      • Single modality secondary association areas
      • Intermodality integration
      • Prefrontal regions
    • Problems with Luria’s Theory
      • Not all cortical areas are hierarchically linked.
      • Difficult to make firm distinctions between sensory and motor functions
      • Unclear how much behavior goes through direct sequential process
      • Doesn’t take into account the parallel systems in the brain



  • Flourens: Generally credited with the demolition of Phrenology
    • Argued for an equipotentiality approach
    • First scientific studies related to brain function (pigeons & chickens)

Late 19th & Early 20th Centuries

  • Marie, Head, Goldstein, & Lashley’: Move toward holism, attacked strict localization
    • Gestalt psychology was influential in this movement
    • Social and political influences around WWI also contributed
    • Lashley proposed theory of mass action and equipotentiality.


Late 19th Century

  • Vogt, Campbell, Brodmann: Produced first cytoarchitectonic maps
  • Ribot: Introduced the distinction between anterograde and retrograde memory; also, Ribot’s law.


  • Munk: Ablation of occipital cortex of dogs – Lissauer and visual agnosia


  • Bender: Neurologist (Bender-Gestalt)
  • Golden: Standardized Luria’s Neuropsychological Investigation
  • Goodglass: Study of language and aphasia
  • Halstead & Reitan: Developed the most widely known battery, based on a series of tests devised by Halstead in the 1940’s
  • Kaplan: Originator of the Boston Process Approach
  • Mishkin: Interaction between amygdale and hippocampus in recognition memory; independence of these structures in associative learning
  • Pribram: Hologram model of memory
  • Teuber: Double dissociation of function; “Kennard principle”
  • Zangwill: Theory of equipotentiality


Why was Neuropsychology so Slow in Developing?

  • Neurologists persisted in rejecting the brain-behavior correlation positions of Broca, Wernicke, etc.
  • Two world wars intervened…
  • Psychology directed its attention to behavior, psychophysics, and psychoanalysis

Why did Neuropsychology Develop?

  • Neurosurgery: Horsley-Clarke (stereotaxic device), Scoville (H.M.), Milner (surgically treated epileptics), Sperry (split brain studies)
  • Psychometrics: Objective measurement and statistical analysis
  • Technology: CT, MRI, functional neuroimaging
  • Experimental Psychology